Relaxed dog lying on comfy dog bed
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Step One: Find the Right Time

Brush your dog's teeth when they are calm and relaxed. Your goal: Set a routine. Working up to brushing daily is ideal. But if their mouth is healthy, even three days a week can make a difference. Without brushing, plaque can build up, putting your dog at risk for bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay. It can also cause painful infections. Severe infection can spread, causing life-threatening conditions.

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Canine toothbrush and other dental implements
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Step Two: Gather Your Tools

You'll want to use a toothbrush made for dogs. The bristles are softer and specially angled. Finger brushes can work well for dogs under 30 pounds. For larger dogs, longer handles can give you better reach. Be sure to use dog toothpaste, too. It comes in dog-friendly flavors like poultry or peanut butter. Never use human toothpaste; it contains ingredients that may hurt your dog's stomach.

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Man reclining next to and comforting dog
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Step Three: Assume the Position

Make sure you're in a spot where your dog is comfortable. Don't stand above your dog, hold them down, or take a threatening stance. Instead, try kneeling or sitting in front of or to the side of them. Gauge your dog's anxiety level. If they seem upset, stop, and try again later. You may need to work on mastering each of the following steps over time.

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Man gently massaging dog's gums with his finger
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Step Four: Get Their Gums Ready

Test your dog's willingness to have you touch their mouth by rubbing your finger along their upper gums and teeth. This will help them get used to the feel of something against their teeth. Use light pressure. You may need to get them comfortable with this over a few sessions before moving on.

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Dog licks canine toothpaste from master's hand
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Step Five: Test the Toothpaste

Put some dog toothpaste on your fingertip. Let your dog lick the toothpaste from your fingertip so that they can get used to the texture and taste. If after a few days they refuse to lick more toothpaste after their initial taste, try a different flavor. Hopefully, you'll find one they see as a treat.

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Bristles held at 45 degree angle to gum line
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Step Six: Try the Toothbrush

When pup is used to you opening and touching their mouth, start using the toothpaste and toothbrush together. Lift their upper lip. As you approach their teeth with the brush, angle the bristles so they reach the gum line. Placing them at a 45-degree angle against their teeth will help the bristles massage the gum line and clear away plaque.

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Man brushing a dog's teeth in a circular motion
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Step Seven: Use a Circular Motion

Brush in small circles, getting top and bottom on each side. As you move the bristles along the gum line, some light bleeding may occur. Slight bleeding every so often is OK. But ongoing or heavy bleeding may mean you’re brushing too aggressively or it may be a sign of gum disease. Speak with your vet for advice.

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Man brushing the inside of a dog's back teeth
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Step Eight: Focus on the Plaque

Brush a few teeth at a time, working up to more each day. Aim for two minutes total. If your dog resists at first, try starting on the outsides of the canine and back teeth, where plaque tends to collect. If you can get the insides, great. But if you can’t get to them as well, don’t stress too much. Their coarse tongue helps keep that area cleaner.

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Man praises his dog while brushing dog's teeth
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Step Nine: Be Reassuring

Keep the mood light while you're brushing your dog's teeth. Talk to them throughout your daily brushing, telling them exactly what you're doing. Remind them what a good pup they are by stroking their jowls or patting their head.


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Man rewarding his dog with a treat
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Step Ten: End on a Positive Note

When you're finished brushing your dog's teeth, reward them with their favorite treat or extra attention. Always stop when everyone's still having fun. Also remember that good dental care doesn't end with brushing. Certain chews and treats can also help you fight plaque buildup. And don't forget to schedule regular professional dental cleanings. Talk with your vet about how often is right for your dog.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/19/2021 Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 19, 2021

(1)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(2)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(3)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(4)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(5)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(6)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(7)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(8)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(9)   Steve Pomberg / WebMD
(10) Steve Pomberg / WebMD

Megan Hilf Riley, DVM, Shallowford Animal Hospital, Marietta, Ga.
WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist: "10 Tips for Better Dental Health in Dogs."
American Veterinary Medical Association: "February is Pet Dental Health Month."
WebMD Veterinary Reference: "Dog Dental Treats."

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 19, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE VETERINARY ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your pet’s health. Never ignore professional veterinary advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think your pet may have a veterinary emergency, immediately call your veterinarian.